Investments in industrial robotics and automation have always centered on whether a human or a machine could more reliably and cost-effectively perform the required task. COVID-19 lockdowns have sometimes taken away the human option, leaving companies with no means to produce and move goods. Even where workers were permitted on site, COVID often hindered manufacturing and distribution operations, as companies striving to keep their employees safe struggled to accurately, reliably, and efficiently monitor social distancing compliance in real time. With the pandemic still spreading at a record-breaking pace, there is every reason to fear further disruptions.
In short, COVID-19 adds new variables to the technology investment calculus and obliges companies to take a fresh look at their options.
LiDAR: Potential and Plateau
The evolution of new technologies is familiar; laboratory experiments create viable products that scale to universal adoption. At some point along the way, many technologies seem to hit a plateau where they become functionally usable, but not quite reliable and cost-effective enough to be widely adopted. Once you have experienced such shortfalls, you may lose sight of advances that are carrying a technology past the tipping point where it can effectively power your profits.
Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) technology is a prime example. 3D LiDAR sensors use lasers to detect minute differences in depth in all ambient lighting conditions, including lights-out factories and warehouses.
This means LiDAR sensors hold great promise to augment or replace traditional CCTV cameras for a variety of monitoring, automation, and security use cases. In place of a flat 2D camera image, LiDAR captures a rich dataset that can be instantly converted into a high-fidelity 3D point cloud. Unambiguous, high-resolution 3D data allows perception developers to distinguish, count, and track hundreds of static and dynamic objects within the sensor’s field-of-view (FOV) — without the complex algorithms required for stereoscopic cameras. This greatly reduces the processing workload for backend servers and computers.
For all these reasons and more, 3D LiDAR sensors are often a superior and immediately applicable solution. For example, industrial workplaces are beginning to use real-time LiDAR data to both enforce social distancing protocols and also to promote the safety of workers operating in proximity to heavy machinery and robotic workcells. Intelligent sensing has also helped companies automate truckyards to vastly reduce truck idle time, yielding significant cost savings while reducing their carbon footprint. Replacing or augmenting traditional cameras with LiDAR can increase inventory counting accuracy by as much as 80%. Indeed, when it comes to sensing applications that require precision, LiDAR is hard to beat.
Companies have most commonly experienced mechanical scanning LiDARs which are complex in design, expensive to produce, and prone to failure.
Yet many companies using legacy LiDARs have bumped up against serious limitations that discouraged large-scale deployment. Most have experienced mechanically complex laser scanners with numerous optical components that require frequent calibration and alignment. These characteristics have made such systems expensive to produce and prone to failure.
Fortunately, technology never stands still. Sense Photonics now offers a system that eliminates all the drawbacks of mechanical scanning LiDARs. How? By eliminating mechanical scanning.
Printed Lasers + Global Shutter Detector = Tipping Point
Our radically simplified Sense Illuminator is a “floodlight” of more than 10,000 tiny lasers printed onto an array that illuminates the entire scene in a single flash, in contrast to mechanical scanners that illuminate just parts of the field at a time. A global shutter detector then captures the returning data, which is immediately converted into a 3D point cloud.
Our high-performing flash illumination LiDAR sensors are simpler and less costly to manufacture and scale than laser scanners. As important, our sensors have no moving parts, can survive harsh environments, and perform equally well in a wide range of lighting conditions.
Our elimination of mechanical scanning results from several advances. While many LiDAR companies rely on inefficient edge emitting laser diodes or high-cost fiber lasers, we print large arrays of our own unique vertical cavity surface emitting lasers (VCSELs) using a patented micro-transfer- printing (MTP) technique. These micro-VCSELs are so small, 250 can fit in an area equivalent to the head of a pin. Printing these microscopic VCSELs onto our laser array eliminates the need for complex optical components. The result is LiDAR that is simpler and less costly to manufacture and scale than mechanically complex laser scanners. As important, our sensors have no moving parts, which makes them far more reliable. They can survive harsh environments and perform equally well in a wide range of lighting conditions.
Taking LiDAR Past The Tipping Point
Intelligent 3D vision is central to countless technology use cases that will redefine competitiveness across every industry. The practical advances we have made here at Sense pave the way for 3D LiDAR to profitably empower industrial machines, forklifts, AGVs, and other robots; help you more effectively monitor all kinds of operations, so you can work with unprecedented agility and efficiency; and significantly accelerate the overall pace of industrial automation, by making it safer and more economical to use many more robots in any workspace, even when workers are present.
In sum, we are taking LiDAR past the tipping point by making advanced sensing solutions significantly more durable, reliable, affordable, and scalable. Right now, Sense Photonics is ready to improve your perception stack with 3D clarity in all lighting conditions, indoors or out, across your entire production and distribution network. That is how we are turning technological promise into a fresh source of profits for your industrial enterprise.
Talk to our experts for more information about our products and technology.
Shauna F. McIntyre
Shauna previously led Google’s automotive services program; prior she served as Chief of Staff for Google Devices, the company’s rapidly growing consumer electronics business combining the best of Google AI, software, and hardware to provide consumers with radically helpful experiences. Shauna started her career at a Ford Motor Company factory, where she instituted lean manufacturing principles.